There's still plenty of rumbling among owners about the Patriots-Roger Goodell dynamic after an awkward postgame ceremony in which the commissioner was booed vociferously as he handed the Lombardi Trophy off to the various figures in the Deflategate saga.
Several ownership sources said that the once-cozy relationship between Goodell and Patriots owner Robert Kraft is still frayed and might always be. The fact that Kraft called this fifth Super Bowl title "the sweetest" one yet ruffled feathers on Park Avenue at the league office and the image of Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia stepping off the team plane wearing a T-shirt depicting Goodell as a clown had some NFL executives seething, I'm told.
"The T-shirt really bothered him," according to one ownership source who had been in contact with big wigs at the league office. "The fact that Kraft didn't stop him from wearing that ticked some people off, but did they really think he's going to protect Goodell after all of this?"
Looks like Matt Patricia is wearing a Goodell clown shirt as the team arrives back in Boston pic.twitter.com/YK8OPZ4Hoh— Nick Emmons TV (@nicknbcboston) February 6, 2017
I reported last year that Kraft had a particular ire for league counsel Jeff Pash in the handling of the Deflategate investigation, and ownership sources said that has by no means subsided. Pash has been a less public league figure since the fallout of the Ted Wells/NFL investigation into the Patriots, but remains a bone of contention between that franchise and the league office.
"Robert still wants Pash out," another ownership source said. "The only way there will ever be a full reconnect between the Patriots and Goodell is if Pash was no longer there."
More news, notes and
rumblings from around the NFL:
The Chiefs are one of the more interesting teams to watch in free agency. There is a growing sense around the league that they must get a long-term deal with star safety Eric Berry in the next few weeks, before the league year begins in March, and that may well price them out of retaining defensive tackle Dontari Poe.
The Chiefs want to keep both, but other teams who have studied their cap situation believe that will prove ambitious, especially with Berry poised for one of the biggest safety contracts in NFL history. Berry is vital to the locker room, beloved for his play and the person he is, and him overcoming cancer to play the best football of his career adds another layer to the process.
Andy Reid takes care of his own and they have routinely paid top dollar to keep key players (Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, Eric Fisher, etc.), and Berry is clearly their priority now. Given how limited this free agent class is, Poe stand to cash in majorly (how could Washington, Dallas, and Indianapolis not be interested, for starters?) if he's not franchised, and carrying him on the tag could be tricky, even if Jamaal Charles is released as expected to create some room. Charles will hardly be alone in terms of big names likely to hit the street.
The Jets will not be giving left tackle Ryan Clady his $2.5 million roster bonus as part of a $10 million salary in 2017, though they are trying to work out a new deal with him at a different price point. The front office is generally meticulous and takes it time, so it may be awhile before veterans like Darrelle Revis, Brandon Marshall and Nick Mangold are let go, though a purge is certainly coming as the franchise looks to get younger and clear up room for recent draft picks to assume larger roles.
Indeed, many of the smarter teams are more interested to see who becomes contract/cap casualties than they are in signing players who are already assured of becoming unrestricted free agents next month given how much those guys will be overpaid and how little projected value these teams see there.
"It's a brutal free agent class," said one AFC executive. "You've got to hope some guys get cut who can fill a role at a decent price. We're more interested in seeing who gets released than where these free agents sign."
Consensus among a few personnel guys I trust is that the Cowboys can get at least a third-round pick for Tony Romo, and possibly one that moves to a second-round pick based on Romo's playing time and ability to stay healthy.
The Chiefs and Texans make a lot of sense to other football people; we'll see if either steps up.
The Steelers have a tricky decision to make on tight end Ladarius Green, who they really like as a person and a player, but whose injury and concussion history has to give them pause.
Pittsburgh is often in a cap crunch and could save $5 million in cap room if he is designated a post-June 1 cut; with some of their younger tight ends making strides last year, and receiver Antonio Brown about to get a massive new deal this offseason, I have a hard time seeing Green back there.
Don't hear a lot of early buzz on Adrian Peterson, and for all he has accomplished, injury-prone, older running backs don't do well on the open market. Dallas is mentioned most frequently, though some wonder if he will get enough work behind Ezekiel Elliott to keep him happy, or enough money to make it worth his while to play.
"Is that guy really wired to take his $3-$5 million and play behind someone else?" one NFC exec opined. "Does it make sense for him to play for that kind of money? Because that's his value. Add in some incentives, but with his production and the injuries, you can't convince me he is more than a $5 million player."
Would the Ravens add a top notch safety two years in a row? Keep an eye on Arizona strong safety Tony Jefferson, who is going to do quite well next month.
Baltimore wouldn't mind pairing him with Eric Weddle, a savvy signing a year ago, in 2017 (if they were able to do that, would spell the end of long-time favorite Lardarius Webb, whose release could free up $5.5 million in cap savings). The Ravens are also continuing efforts to retain run-stuffing stalwart Brandon Williams on their defensive line, sources said.
Carson Palmer's announcement that he won't retire hasn't cooled speculation in other front offices that the Cardinals wouldn't explore other options if an upgrade is possible. At the very least, again, I continue to hear that Clemson's Deshaun Watson is coveted by them, though it would likely take a significant trade up to land him in the draft.
Keep hearing more buzz about Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes. He'll be a "riser" by the combine, I'm sure, and the more time teams spend with him the more the evaluators will like him. At worst he's the third quarterback taken in the draft and I wouldn't rule him out as a top-three pick, either, depending on what quarterback-starved teams like the 49ers, Browns and Bears do in the trade or free agent market. I don't think he gets past the Texans in the first round.